Back-to-School Reminder: Free school meals are no longer free for all students

Published: Aug. 1, 2022 at 5:44 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The school year is approaching fast, and a huge benefit available to all families around the country for the past two years won’t be there this year.

Free meals for everyone are gone. It’s still available for families with certain income requirements, but they will now have to apply for free/reduced meals every school year.

That was the case until the pandemic hit. During the last two years, Congress passed a federal waiver that made school breakfasts and lunches free to all students regardless of their family’s incomes.

According to the USDA, the number of students getting free lunches rose from 20 million to 30 million thanks to the federal government’s action.

But that federal waiver expired June 30, and now the rules are back to the way they were pre-pandemic.

Over the weekend, President Biden did sign a law that enables summer meal program providers to operate with more flexibility and help schools in the coming academic year as they continue to cope with supply chain interruptions and labor shortages.

But the blanket free school meals for all students isn’t a part of that law, meaning that only families who cannot pay the total price for meals under federal guidelines will now qualify for free/reduced meals.

Springfield Public Schools, the largest district in the state, has applications available online and at each school office.

“An online application takes 24-48 hours to process while a hard copy application takes up to 10 days,” pointed out SPS General Manager of Student Nutrition Kim Keller. “So it is a lot quicker turnaround if they fill out the online application. There’s always talk about maybe somebody getting a free meal program through Congress at the last minute, but at this point, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, unfortunately.”

Three factors determine eligibility:

1.) Your total household income and size of the household

2.) Your child’s individual status as foster, homeless, migrant, or runaway

3.) Is your child already part of another kind of assistance program which makes them already qualified for free meals

Going online, you will also find a federal eligibility income chart that shows how much income you can have in relation to the number of family members in your home and still qualify for free/reduced meals.

For instance, a household of three can have an annual salary as high as $42,606 and still qualify, while a family of seven can have a yearly salary of $77,534.

“The highest one on the chart goes up to $82,266 (for a household of eight), so lots of times people think there’s no way they’re going to qualify when they can,” Keller pointed out. “And with as much as groceries cost and the high price of gas right now, everybody’s feeling the pinch. So we’re encouraging everybody to fill this out.”

A separate free food program at 33 Springfield schools called “Breakfast in the Classroom” is not affected by the changes and will continue delivering free breakfast to those schools.

Another important reminder is that even after the school year starts (Aug. 22 for Springfield), families are still allowed to apply for the free/reduced meal program.

“Lots of times families may have circumstances where someone may lose a job, or they have additional folks move into their household, Keller said. “When a situation changes, they can fill out an application anytime during the school year.”

To look at Springfield Public Schools’ free/reduced meal information, you can go to

To report a correction or typo, please email

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